Sunday, January 15, 2023

Nurses Quarters

By Sylvia Erskine (pseud. Peggy Gaddis), ©1953 

As far back as she could remember, Ann Harrelson dreamed of becoming a nurse. Nothing mattered but her training—until she met the handsome, charming—but married doctor. The lovely young student nurse was no match for his mature sophistication. As new and uncontrollable emotions overpowered her, Ann knew she would sacrifice her career, her dream, and her reputation. Then she met Dr. Allan Hall, who offered her the chance to start anew. Ann was faced with a decision that would alter the course of her life. But it was a hospital emergency and emotions laid bare by the crisis that showed her the way.


“It always disturbs a man to think that a girl would rather do something else than marry him. Women do like to do something else.” 

“‘From him, a dressing down wouldn’t be hard to take,’ murmured Norah dreamily. ‘In fact—’”

“You’re a nurse, honey. You’re supposed to concentrate on skill and not your hellish beauty.”

“Look here, I’ve had about all of that ‘you’re a doctor’ stuff I’m going to take form you or anyone else.”

I think this book qualifies as smut novel! I’ve never read one before, but this pseudonym was one used for only four books by Peggy Gaddis; the others, including A Lover for Anne and Farm Hussy (which I for one am going to race out and buy!), do seem to fit the bill. But it must be confessed—though our heroine, Nurse Anne Harrelson, does in fact have sex on multiple occasions with the married Dr. Prescott Thayer, all is carried out offstage, and we’re given only vague sensual language to describe the shocking situation. It is, in fact, far tamer than almost any contemporary romance novel. 

Anne is living at home with her sister and her sister’s husband Bruce, and she and her brother-in-law are lusting mightily after each other, even kissing behind closed doors. But fortunately, she has always wanted to be a nurse and had applied to nursing school, so even though her sister tells her, “you’re a born homemaker, and I think you’re making a mistake to insist on the nursing school. You should be married, Anne. You should have a home of your own and at least one pair of twins,” as though obtaining a husband and twins were merely a matter of shopping the right department store. There is a young man who would like to offer Anne a ring, and fresh off a hot argument with Bruce, Anne is ready to have sex with the guy right there on the beach, but Jim fends the hot-blooded woman off long enough for her to remember that she doesn’t really love him.

So off to nursing school she goes, grumpy and uncomfortable in her starched, nylon uniform until Dr. Thayer offers her a ride home by way of his apartment, feeds her too many drinks, and then bends her over his arm. “You know what you need, don’t you?” he purrs, and she does! “I wouldn’t be much good in my profession if I couldn’t diagnose a simple case of emotional frustration,” he concludes, and three paragraphs later it’s over, “her body relaxed as she had never before been relaxed.”

Then it’s back to the grind of classes, Anne a far more mellow woman, able to enjoy the company of Dr. Allan Hall, who is finishing up the final year of his residency before heading home to take over his father’s practice in a small Georgia town. But eventually she starts getting wound up again, and Dr. Thayer recommends a weekend away in a small town.

Unfortunately, the morning after a passionate night in the motel, a tornado sweeps through a nearby town. Given away by the caduceus on his license plate, Dr. Thayer instead flees for St. Simons when the hotel owner begs the couple to aid the tornado victims, but Anne, just months into her training, stays and works tirelessly to aid the victims—and when more aid finally floods in and she’s free to drop, a newspaper reporter takes a photo of her asleep on a table, and her illicit weekend away is exposed. She’s kicked out of nursing school, but finds a job in a nursing home for indigent elderly, quickly becoming the bestest nursing aide the place ever knew.

Then Mrs. Thayer, in a smart tailored suit and a navy blue lamb’s wool coat, tracks her down and orders her to leave town or she’ll have the home shut down. Anne is packing her bags again when Allan turns up, pissed as hell that she’d run out on him and declaring that he’s in love with her, that she should move to the town where his father works, help out, and marry him when he’s finished with his residency in a few months.

The interesting thing about this book is that Anne’s adventures in the sack are a great burden to her conscience. She is constantly declaring that she is “a no good, shameless bitch!” and “sickened with shame and self-disgust.” It frankly gets a little old to constantly be told that “surely no decent, self-respecting girl would be so stirred by this evil thing, this aching yearning for physical lovemaking.” The men usually don’t agree, including the man she didn’t boink on the beach, who tells her, “What’s so shameless about giving in to the way you feel about a fellow?” Though he does add that they should be married first, and her qualm seems to stem from the fact that she is not in love with the men she wants to shag.  

But Anne does demonstrate strength of character, enough to go back to nursing school when she knows she’s been found out to face the consequences. “This had to be faced before it could ever be put behind her,” she thinks, even as she realizes the career she had wanted so badly will be destroyed. And when the man she decides she really does love shows up to claim her, she does her best to talk him out of it, telling him the entire truth from beginning to end and declaring that she’s “a no-good tramp of a girl no decent man could want around.” Her would-be, of course, continues to declare his love for her—though he admits “I’d give my right arm if it hadn’t happened”—and reminds her that “you’ve had the honest and the decency to confess it and to regret it.” And the doctor in the town she flees to after this confrontation takes the whole story with a shrug. “Were you trying to shock me, child? I’m afraid you’re years too late for that,” he laughs, adding that “the only wrong thing now would be to go on letting it ruin your life. You’ve got a lot of years ahead, and you can make them very find, full of happiness, of services, or you can get yourself all twisted and bitter and warped by useless remorse.” Only a kiss the likes of which she’d never felt before with her beloved cleanses her pure in the end, even if he announces, “it wouldn’t be human to forget that the woman you love has had another man’s lovemaking thrill her.” If it’s still a stain on her character that she’s not a virgin—and we know it would never be a stain on a man’s—at least she wasn’t in love with them! Or if she was, as she said she was with her brother-in-law, she never did sleep with him. Phew! So if this is the ’60s version of a smut novel, it's a little disappointing—more for its relentless morality than for its immorality.

Monday, January 2, 2023

2022 VNRN Awards

Wow, what a year. This is our tenth anniversary, friends, but I’m disappointed to tell you that no glamorous alloy do we merit for this accomplishment; tin or aluminum is our reward, meant to symbolize resilience. Well, resilient we are, to soldier on in our mission to restore the vintage nurse romance novel to its former glory and to frolic in the camp, the sparkly ballgowns, the moody beaux, the humor, and the strength of our nurse heroines.

I will add that this year has also seen my 500th nurse novel review (the most enjoyable Recovery Room Nurse by William Neubauer; see below) as well as a new venture, Nurse Novels Publishing, which is re-releasing as ebooks the very best of the VNRNs (run, don’t walk, to the web site, and shop your little hearts out!).

And for the fine print: Winners are chosen from the 47 VNRNs I read this past year, which were penned by 36 different authors. The Best and Worst Authors categories includes all the VNRNs reviewed for this blog (516 to date), but only authors with more than one review are included. The Best Books category is packed with old favorites (e.g. Dorothy Fletcher, Olive Norton, Jean Francis Webb III, Florence Stonebraker), while Ida Cook (writing as Mary Burchell) is breaking into the top echelons with a bang. It’s an interesting year for Peggy Gaddis, who has the dubious distinction of gracing both the Best Books and the Worst Books categories (the latter twice, which is not the first time she has done this; see 2010).

In conclusion: Thanks to all who have supported this endeavor with a kind word. It means a lot.

Best Books
1. Nurse Sally's Last ChanceAnne Durham
2. Graduate NurseAnn Rush (pseud. Sara Jenkins Cunningham)
3. Hope Wears WhiteFlorence Stuart (pseud. Florence Stonebraker)
4. Surgeon of DistinctionMary Burchell (pseud. Ida Cook)
5. House of Hate, Dorothy Fletcher
6. Recovery Room Nurse, Rebecca Marsh (pseud. William Neubauer)
7. The Doctor’s Challenge, Marjorie Moore
8. The Nurse from Hawaii, Ethel Hamill (pseud. Jean Francis Webb III)
9. Night Duty at Duke’s, Bess Norton (pseud. Olive Norton)
10. Reach for Tomorrow, Georgia Craig (pseud. Peggy Gaddis)

Worst Books
1. Florida Nurse, Peggy Dern (pseud. Peggy Gaddis)
2. Future Nurse, Peggy Gaddis
3. North Country Nurse, Robert Ackworth
4. Nurse of the Wine Country, Ruth McCarthy Sears
5. Amy Marsh, Star Nurse, Sarah Nichols
6. Nurse Jenny, Margaret Howe
7. Park Avenue Nurse, Adelaide Humphries
8. Community Nurse, Arlene Hale
9. Nurse Harlowe, Jane Arbor
10. Nurse in ResidenceArlene Hale 

Best Authors
1. Noreen Ford (3.9 average, based on 2 reviews)
2. Faith Baldwin (3.8 average, based on 4 reviews)
3. Ida Cook (3.7 average, based on 2 reviews)
4. Marguerite Mooers Marshall (3.7 average, based on 4 reviews)
5. Olive Norton (3.6 average, based on 6 reviews)
6. Maysie Sopoushek (3.5 average, based on 2 reviews)
7. Elizabeth Seifert (3.4 average, based on 3 reviews)

Worst Authors
1. Mary Mann Fletcher (1.5 average, based on 2 reviews)
2. Arlene Fitzgerald (1.6 average, based on 5 reviews)
3. Ruth McCarthy Sears (1.6 average, based on 6 reviews)
4. Zillah Macdonald (1.7 average, based on 3 reviews)
5. Peggy Blocklinger (1.7 average, based on 11 reviews)
6. Kellier, Elizabeth (1.9 average, based on 3 reviews)
7. Virginia K. Smiley (1.9 average, based on 4 reviews)

Best Quotes

“Lena made a quick check of his condition and confirmed the fact that he was in a coma.” 
Behind Hospital Walls, by Ruth Dorset

“I’m just sick that I lost my temper and shot you!”
Betsy Moran, R.N., by Peggy Gaddis

“Number Fifteen has just slopped over herself her new bottle of orange squash and the other dimwit who came with you is making heavy weather of mopping up. Go and see how much you can add to the confusion.”
Nurse Sally’s Last Chance, by Anne Durham

“Just about the time you think the guy’s human, he gets a faraway look in his eye, and then he explains why he prefers to use Sim’s abdominal tenaculum over Kelly’s.”
Nurse in Danger, by Jane Converse (pseud. Adele Maritano) 

“The knowledge that Jimmie would never be a mental case cheered her.”
Nurse Jenny, by Margaret Howe 

“‘Want to hear about the abscess now?’ he inquired, and she forced a look of interest into her face.”
The Hospital World of Susan Wray, by Anne Lorraine 

“You’re a lousy nurse. You stick to too much procedure. Don’t you know that a kiss or two would do me more good than anything?”
Camp Nurse, by Arlene Hale 

“No, I had no special plans. Nothing that couldn’t be arranged, anyway. Eddie Fisher wanted to take me to the New York Hilton for dinner, but I put him off. Some other time, I told him. He was terribly disappointed, but never let it be said I let a colleague down.”
First Year Nurse, by Diane Frazer (pseud. Dorothy Fletcher)

“Whoever would have thought this place would have a homey air? I would call it a definite triumph over the landlord’s intentions.”
Airport Nurse, by Monica Edwards

“If I had my teeth in, I’d bite you, honey.” 
Hope Wears White, by Florence Stuart (pseud. Florence Stonebraker)

Best Covers

First Year Nurse, illustration by Harry Bennett